Parenting and the vaccine refusal process: A new explanation of the relationship between lifestyle and vaccination trajectories

Kerrie E. Wiley, Julie Leask, Katie Attwell, Catherine Helps, Chris Degeling, Paul Ward, Stacy M. Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research illuminates the characteristics of non-vaccinating parents in well-defined geographic communities, however the process by which they came to reject vaccines is less clearly understood. Between September 11th, 2017 and February 20th, 2019, we recruited a nationally derived sample of Australian parents of children under 18 years who rejected some or all vaccines for semi-structured interviews. We used various strategies, including advertising on national radio, in community centres and playgrounds in low coverage areas, and snowballing. Grounded Theory methodology guided data collection and analysis. Twenty-one parents from regional and urban locations were interviewed. All spoke of wanting happy, healthy, robust children. All endorsed parenting values and approaches aligned with modern societal expectations of taking responsibility for their child's health. They varied, however, in their lifestyle and vaccination trajectories. Participants self-identified as situated along an ‘alternative’ to ‘mainstream’ lifestyle spectrum and had moved both away from and toward vaccination over time. Some had decided before birth that they never would vaccinate their children and had not changed. Others stopped vaccinating after perceived post-vaccine reactions in their children. Still others initially rejected vaccines, but eventually accepted them. The variation and dynamic nature of the vaccination trajectories described in this study suggests that vaccine refusal is not a static trait but rather the result of ever-changing experience and continual risk assessment; not all non-vaccinating parents fit the ‘alternative lifestyle’ stereotype. This suggests that nuanced personalised engagement with non-vaccinating parents is more appropriate than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113259
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • Australia
  • Childhood vaccination
  • Immunisation
  • Public health
  • Qualitative research
  • Vaccine refusal


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